Box-Office Preview: Can the Christmas Glut Rescue Ailing 2017 Ticket Sales?

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, The Greatest Showman and Star Wars: The Last Jedi - Split - Publicity - H 2017
From left to right: Courtesy of Sony Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox and Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

'Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle' and 'The Greatest Showman' join 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' in the holiday parade Wednesday, followed by 'Pitch Perfect 3,' 'Downsizing' and 'Father Figures' on Friday.

A spirited year-end battle at the box office commences Wednesday when Sony's Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and Fox's The Greatest Showman, starring Hugh Jackman as P. T. Barnum, open nationwide opposite the current ruling champ, Disney and Lucasfilm's Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

The crowded Christmas parade grows Friday with the addition of Universal's Pitch Perfect 3, Paramount's Downsizing and Alcon Entertainment's Father Figures. If all goes well, the lineup of films could significantly narrow the revenue gap at the 2017 North American box office, the scene of a nausea-inducing roller-coaster ride for Hollywood studios and theater owners.

The Last Jedi is already proving a force to be reckoned with after opening to a rousing $220 million, the second-best domestic launch of all time behind 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens ($247.9 million). Heading into the Dec. 15-17 weekend, domestic box-office revenue trailed last year by 4 percent. Thanks to the Last Jedi, the revenue gap is now 2.9 percent.

If the holiday titles perform well on a collective basis, domestic revenue has a shot at coming in at $11.34 billion, less than a percentage point behind last year's record $11.4 billion. At worst, box-office observers believe the year would end up 2 percent behind 2016, helping to soothe the sting of the worst summer decline in modern times, when revenue tumbled 16 percent year-over-year. And all agree that 2017 revenue will clear $11 billion for only the third time.

Any downturn is always worrisome, but there's a palpable sense of relief among those monitoring the box office. "For all of the hysteria this summer, where people felt the sky was falling, the full-year results are turning out better than most anticipated," says Wall Street analyst Eric Handler of MKM Partners.

Internationally, this year's revenue has been running ahead of last year's by about 5 percent, but the North American box office is still prime turf for Hollywood studios, since they get more money back from domestic ticket sales. And a film's performance in North America is still key to its overall global success in many instances.

The Christmas corridor is one of the most lucrative moviegoing stretches of the year, particularly between Christmas Day and New Year's Day.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is expected to win the holiday weekend race overall, with the Jumanji reboot/sequel tracking to take second place.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle — Hollywood's latest attempt to revive a long-dormant property — is expected to post a six-day opening (Wednesday-Monday) of between $45 million and $60 million, with many betting on the higher end. (The Last Jedi should post well north of $100 million during the same window).

Directed by Jake Kasdan, Jumanji 2 stars Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Nick Jonas and Bobby Cannavale. The story follows a group of teens who are transported into the video game world of Jumanji, becoming characters of the game. The film currently sports an 83 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

The Greatest Showman, which earned several top Golden Globe nominations, including for best picture in the musical/comedy category, is tipped to gross $20 million to $22 million in its first six days. The music-infused biographical drama about how Barnum started the Barnum & Bailey Circus was directed by Michael Gracey and also stars Zac Efron, Michelle Williams, Rebecca Ferguson and Zendaya. (As fate would have it, the movie opens seven months after the circus ceased operation.)

Like The Last Jedi, Jumanji 2 and The Greatest Showman are all-audience offerings targeting nearly every demo, including families.

Pitch Perfect 3, meanwhile, hopes to be a top choice for younger females and is tracking to post a strong four-day debut in the $28 million-$32 million range.

Regular franchise stars Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Hailee Steinfeld, Brittany Snow, Anna Camp, Hana Mae Lee, Ester Dean, Alexis Knapp, Chrissie Fit, Kelley Jakle, Shelley Regner, Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins all return in the threequel, which was directed by Trish Sie. Newcomers include John Lithgow and Ruby Rose. Gold Circle Entertainment once again partnered with Universal on the film, which takes up after the Bellas have graduated from college.

The holiday season's R-rated comedy offering is Father Figures, from Alcon Entertainment and distributed by Warner Bros. The film, following two brothers who set out to find their biological father, stars Owen Wilson, Ed Helms, J.K. Simmons, Katt Williams, Terry Bradshaw and Ving Rhames. Lawrence Sher directed.

Father Figures is tracking for a four-day bow of $7 million to $14 million.

A more serious-minded offering among the titles opening Friday is filmmaker Alexander Payne's Downsizing, starring Matt Damon, Hong Chau and Kristen Wiig. Tracking shows the movie debuting to $10 million to $12 million. From a script by Payne and Jim Taylor, the story stars Damon as a Midwestern man who decides to be shrunk to five inches tall in order to live like a king.

Also Friday, Fox opens awards hopeful The Post in nine theaters in select markets. Directed by Steven Spielberg, the Pentagon Papers drama stars Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks.

Scott Cooper's Hostiles, starring Christian Bale, likewise debuts in select markets. Entertainment Studios is handling the gritty Western.

A flurry of other award contenders already in the marketplace will likewise look for attention, including Focus Features' Darkest Hour, which expands Friday into more than 700 theaters. The Golden Globe-nominated period drama stars Gary Oldham as Winston Churchill.

On Christmas Day, Ridley Scott's All the Money in the World opens everywhere, while Aaron Sorkin's feature directorial debut, Molly's Game, and Paul Thomas Anderson's Phantom Thread, starring Daniel Day Lewis, bow in select locations.

All the Money in the World, recounting the kidnapping of John Paul Getty's grandson, had been set to launch Dec. 22, but its release was delayed after Scott replaced disgraced actor Kevin Spacey with Christopher Plummer, a decision that required 11th-hour reshoots. Mark Wahlberg and Michelle Williams also star in the film, which Sony is releasing domestically.

STXfilms and The Mark Gordon Company will first launch Molly's Game, starring Jessica Chastain as the host of a Hollywood poker game, in 250-plus locations in 40 top markets.

And Focus Features will debut Phantom Thread in four theaters in New York and Los Angeles.